By Patrice Stewart
The Decatur Daily
DECATUR, Ala. — Mitchell Morris needs a new boat motor and a new heart. Now he’s counting on his 13 cats to help him get them.
An unlucky number?
“It might be lucky this time,” said his wife, Robbie, glancing at a basket of 10 kittens they believe are part bobcat.
Three mama cats lounge around their headquarters in an elegant pink and white barn in Alabama’s Lawrence County.
But there’ll be no more barn mice for these special kitties, Morris says, because he’s been promised “thousands of dollars” for them by a breeder in Washington state. They are getting Delta tickets for flights to new homes across the country.
Seattle-area breeder Carol Ann Brewer, who got Pixie-Bobs approved as a breed, believes Morris’ cats are the part-bobcat breed, each worth $300 to $1,500. She and other breeders want to preserve this cross between a cat and a bobcat.
“We’re very excited about it, and we’re quite certain they’re going to be what we’re looking for,” Brewer said, adding that the breed is in very high demand. Morris said the kittens will have a different lifestyle now that they’re famous.
“They’ve been upgraded to rock-star status now. They’ve been to the vet and they get the best food,” said Morris.
At first, Morris started to give the kittens away, but with little luck. Then he planned to take them to the animal shelter, where they might have been euthanized.
“But something held me back — I just thought there was something special about these cats,” he said.
Before he took them to the pound, he decided to do research online.
He found information and photos of the Pixie-Bob breed “that looked just like Rufus,” the wild cat he believes is the kittens’ father.
After he put a few words on an Internet site about cats, a bidding war started.
“All week long I was bombarded with about 26 calls and more than 50 e-mails,” he said, from people across the country who wanted to buy the cats.
“They were fighting each other over these cats, telling me not to give them to this person or that one,” said Morris.
He talked with Brewer and agreed to sell them to her. She plans to keep two and share the cost by dividing them among her breeder friends, who will try to continue the Pixie-Bob line.
“I found gold in my own backyard with these kittens,” said Morris, who encourages others to be on the lookout, too.
It began with a catfight
This all started nearly two years ago when he saw two bobcats fighting in a tree near his house, Morris said.
He investigated and found a den where a bobcat had her kittens.
He managed to set a trap with sardines and tuna and caught one and named him Rufus, “but I couldn’t tame him, no matter what.”
He said Native Americans called bobcats “red cats,” and the word Rufus means red.
Later he put a gray and white cat in the pen with Rufus.
“I’d had him in that pen about a year, and she showed him how to get out right away,” Morris said.
Soon he received a call that his cat had given birth to kittens at a neighbor’s house. Rufus continued to make regular evening appearances, running across the Morris property and hiding in bushes. Morris is convinced Rufus is a first-generation “Legend” cat that keeps the part-bobcat line going.
“I said there’s going to be a lot of cats around here, and sure enough, the mamas had 10 kittens between them over about a week and a half.”
Morris hasn’t been able to work on his graphics business as he used to and could use the newfound “kitty” to get that boat motor, take the family to Disney World, pay for expensive prescriptions and hospital bills, or put aside for his burial.
“God will send you money and miracles in the strangest ways,” said Morris, while talking about his congestive heart failure and recent heart attack, as well as his triple bypass surgery 2 ½ years ago.
He hopes to get in shape to make the transplant waiting list.
“I want 15 more years to see my girls grow up,” said the 44-year-old Mallard Creek man, watching his daughter Keeley, 4, play with the kittens while 7-month-old Lily looks on.
“I’m not a cat person,” said Morris, who owns Big Dog Graphics. “I’m more of a dog person, but I might turn into a cat person now.
Dr. Jan Strother of the North Alabama Cat and Bird Veterinary Clinic in Hartselle says there is no genetic reason why cats and bobcats could not mix, but she finds it hard to believe, “because unless bobcats have been domestically raised, they don’t usually mix with feral cats.”
Plenty of bobcats are in this area, however, and many feral cats, too, so there are all sorts of possibilities. Feral cats are the offspring of domestic cats that have been abandoned, so they have reverted to wild.
“Bobcats are loners. They are territorial, and they don’t hang out with other cats or hunt together, so it would be an unusual situation,” said Strother, who raised bobcats at the San Antonio Zoo and worked with wild animals at Lion Country Safari.
“I had a lot of experience with them, and they’re absolutely adorable when they’re kittens, but even if you’ve hand-raised them with bottles, when they become adults they get a different personality,” she said.
Brewer said Pixie-Bobs are very bold, with bigger bones and larger feet than normal cats.
“They have personalities like dogs. They walk on a leash. They ride in the car. They will ride only on the driver’s lap, the driver’s left shoulder, or on the dashboard,” she said. “They are afraid of nothing.”
Bobcats are protected by federal law, Strother noted, and they are typically predators, not scavengers.
“As a veterinarian, I typically see bobtail kitty cats or Manx cats, which can look like bobcats. Typically their back ends are taller than their front ends, and they may have tufts in the ears that look bobcat-like,” she said.
DNA testing could be done, but bobcats should be allowed to stay in the wild and not deliberately bred with others, possibly creating animals with personality problems.
“There are many, many unwanted domestic cats that need homes, and no one is willing to spend thousands to save all the domestic cats that need it,” Strother said.